In the Middle Distance
Graywolf Press, $14
In the Middle Distance, Linda Gregg’s seventh collection of poems, turns its attention to a memory-occupied ground somewhere between the past and the present. “Real things” seen on evening walks on desert roads, the pale Aegean just before dark, or blackened logs from childhood beach bonfires—all these show up in Gregg’s book in a temporal middle distance, allowing the poet to make the very scope of memory her subject. Through memory, Gregg wonders how lost love can yield fresh meaning, especially in the poems that seem to recall her marriage to the poet Jack Gilbert. “It’s strange,” Gregg writes in “Arriving Again and Again Without Noticing,” “that my heart is as full / now as my desire was then.” But while memories of romantic, familial, and friendly relationships seem to fascinate Gregg with their continuing resonance, she apologizes bluntly for attending to the past, as in these lines from “The Other Excitement”: “If I go back into memory it’s not / because I like it, but because / that’s where the hard things are.” It’s this constant consideration of time that gives Gregg’s volume its remarkable beauty. The poet seems aware that being somewhere in body or mind always comes at the expense of not being somewhere else, and that this is life’s choice, always chosen but rarely acknowledged, and here beautifully suggested. These are hearts-of-poems, pared down to eight or 13 or 20 lines, given in direct hearts-of-sentences: “She decided to walk there . . .”; “No one really dies in the myths . . .” Gregg relies on fragments and abstract statements of fact to suggest the primacy of experience and to express her own reticence about communicating it. In the gorgeous and conflicted middle distance of Gregg’s poems, “the sun . . . is always going down,” and the speaker is walking and thinking of love and solitude and silence, leaving the reader to lavish in the charged intimacies of the moment.